I buy a lot of pet fish. I just can’t seem to keep them alive for more than a few weeks so my daughter has had several: Ruby, Jose, Anabelle… Her last fish’s name was Strawberry; a vibrant, red Beta. My daughter loved Strawberry. She woke in the night last week crying because we forgot to feed him. “He’s not moving,” she said in between sobs. He was moving. She was just afraid he had died of starvation in one night apparently.
A couple days ago it was time to change the water in Strawberry’s fish bowl. Since I’m so good at killing pet fish I actually read the instructions for a Beta and followed them. He had been a member of our household for about three weeks so I had changed his water a couple times already. I was supposed to empty 1/3 of the bowl into the sink and then refill it with clean, distilled water. I absentmindedly started to dump the water down the drain and in a flash I saw Strawberry flapping out of the bowl and into the drain. I had time to say, “Oh no! Oh no!” before the slippery sucker went right down. There was no time to react. Strawberry was gone.
My daughter was in the next room playing. I immediately started thinking of things I could tell her. “Strawberry got sick like Anabelle.” “Strawberry is playing hide and seek.” “Strawberry jumped out of the bowl to swim back to his family in Lake Michigan.” But I decided to tell her the truth.
I walked into the living room, sat on the sofa, and said, “You know how I needed to clean Strawberry’s fish bowl? Well, when I dumped the water out, Strawberry slid right out the top and down the drain! I’m very sorry, he’s gone and I will have to get you a new fish.” She looked at me seriously and said, “Mommy, you need to be more careful next time.” Then she smiled, gave me a hug, and said, “But it’s okay”.
This girl is three years old and she reacted perfectly. This is how we, as parents, should react as well. How many times do our children do something and we completely overreact? Especially if it was an accident. We need to take a deep breath, ask how or why it happened, and let them talk before we react.
The bigger lesson here for me was that honesty truly is the best policy. Had I made up some silly lie, I would have been teaching her that it’s okay to lie to cover up her mistakes.
Life is full of lessons. Even small lessons like this are actually larger in the scheme of things. Everything we say and do, how we treat each other, and how we react to situations is teaching our children how to behave. They mimic us. If you overreact when they skin their knee, more than likely they will to. If you yell when you get angry, they probably will too. If you can calmly talk through problems, hopefully they will learn to as well.
It’s like those billboards we see on the highway, “Your kids are watching. Be active and they will too.” “Eat more fruits and veggies and your kids will too.”
Be a good roll model. Children (and adults) are more likely to follow someone’s example before they follow advice. So set a good example. Think before you speak and make sure your actions reflect your character.
*Actual photo of Strawberry. He has now been replaced by Plum.